The Ultimate Notebook Computer for Writers – Macbook Air 11 or 13

Macbook Air 11 inch, the ultimate writer's notebook computer.

[Page Updated 2 November 2017]

If the new MacBook Air 11-inch is good enough for him – well then…

Let me first say that I still rage against Apple’s proprietary BS. I don’t like the idea of not being able to easily remove batteries, upgrade RAM, upgrade hard drives and the rest of it. I had the iPhone 3GS for a couple of months before deciding it was easily replaced by the HTC One V which allows me to transfer files at will without going through Apple’s Gatekeeper – iTunes. Then I reverted back to iPhones and have the iPhone 6s which I tolerate. For now.

I’ve come to see that with notebooks – there is nothing like Apple MacBooks. When Apple is the obvious right choice – I have to admit it.

The ultimate writer’s notebook computer is, without a doubt in my mind, the MacBook Air 11-inch, released in 2012 – but updated through 2017.

See a new MacBook here and price them for Christmas, your birthday, however you want to justify it. You need this as a writer.

Apple 13″ MacBook Air, 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 Dual Core Processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Mac OS, Silver, MQD32LL/A (Newest Version)

I’ve stated before, and numerous times, that the primary concern for me as a writer – is the keyboard. That is by far the number one variable for me in selecting a computer to write on. I write about a million words each year, I need something that works for me – not against me. I have found very few computers I like to write with over the years.

The HP ProBook 4310s I have had for a couple years now – worked well enough for years. Then I got a few Lenovos, then a Compaq. The keyboards on these computers were not awesome. But, at the time and for the money – it’s what was available. The humidity of Thailand is surely going to have its way with my old notebooks – same as all my electronic gadgets after 2-3 years.

So I got a Lenovo IdeaPad. Why? It was less than $600 and the battery life is phenomenal. I get about 10 hours from that sucker while writing. I could get more, but I crank up the brightness and have WIFI running as I write. The keyboard is sweet, I enjoyed it for a while. The operating system – Microsoft Windows – is an abomination though. I finally was ready to get away from computers altogether. I was so frustrated with Windows.

I splurged and bought the MacBook Air 11-inch notebook computer at Thailand’s equivalent of the Apple store (reseller: iStudio). The keyboard is awesome. I love it, without reservation. The keys are spaced exactly the right distance for my fingers. It is a bit cramped, but, for typing fast, nothing beats that layout. Cramped means your fingers need not travel a great distance to reach keys. After a million words of writing in a year, 5,000,000 keystrokes, that counts for a lot.

When you press a key on the new Lenovo chiclet keyboards, you know it. There is a good distance to travel to push it down, and you know when you’ve pushed the key. There is no question. However, the springiness of the keys is a little hard for my taste. Initially, I thought I’d get over it. It just wasn’t perfect. The hard-to-press keys of the Lenovo pushed me away from the thing. Sure, it is NOTHING like pushing the keys of the old IBM Selectric typewriters. Still, I don’t enjoy the experience very much when writing long articles. When writing short blurbs, email, it’s great. I will hold on to the Lenovo as a backup and for quick stuff – but I need something else for writing thousands of words per day.

This MacBook is what the doctor ordered for this writer.

Early on I tested the Airs at the Apple stores in Bangkok, Phuket, and Kuala Lumpur. I liked them, but I wasn’t sold on pushing down on the keys so little. The keyboard on the MacBook Air 11-inch is also just right for my hands. I didn’t measure against the Lenovo E125, but it must be very close. I do prefer the concavity of the Lenovo keyboard, but, apparently, I cannot have everything. I have never had everything I want from electronics. I imagine I never will.

Apple 13″ MacBook Air, 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 Dual Core Processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Mac OS, Silver, MQD32LL/A (Newest Version)

I went back to the Apple store in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand and tried the MacBook Air 11 and 13-inch computers to see what I thought. These were the 2012 models. Backlit. Bright screens. Super lightweight.

I loved the 11-inch. The 13-inch seemed a bit too spaced out – the keys, I mean – for my taste. The weight of the 11-inch is 2 lbs. The battery life – an appalling 5 hours (this back in 2012 – it is around 12 hours now!).

I noticed the chargers for A/C are heaps lighter than the contraptions necessary for either my Lenovo or HP notebooks. I am guessing the Macbook Air AC adapters are 1/6th the weight of typical PC based machines. That means a lot because when traveling, you must bring your AC adapter with you. Few people count that in the weight of their machines. I didn’t in the past, but after hauling around my Lenovo at 3.7 lbs and then the 1+ lb adapter, I started to realize – this thing is a PIG. I think I could carry 2 MacBook Air computers and 2 adapters, to the one Lenovo + adapter. That was a mind-blowing realization. I knew then, my search for the ultimate writer’s notebook wasn’t yet complete.

The keyboard on the MacBook Air does not require much key depression to activate a keystroke. Still, the feeling of pressing the keys is nice – it is solid. You know you pressed a key. The keys are not concave… but, good enough. They are backlit – which I like a lot.

You know what finally clinched it for the MacBook Air?

The touchpad.

The touchpads on Lenovos, HP, Compaq, Toshiba, are atrocious.

The touchpad on the Lenovo – is worse than atrocious – it is Neanderthal. I just shut the dumb thing off and use the red nubby thing between my g and h keys, which rather sucks too – but, that’s how I would deal with it before.

Over the past few months, I’ve had my hands on many ultrabooks including the Samsung 9 series, Lenovo u300’s, Toshiba’s best, and the high-rated ASUS UltraBook. I didn’t like the touchpad on any of them.

The MacBook Air touchpad is the best I’ve used – by FAR. It is in a class all its own.

It is ultra-responsive. It is big enough to be comfortable. The speed of moving the cursor around is good at the fastest setting. Clicking the bottom corners (left and right) – works. You know when you click. There are no mistakes. The touchpad is smart enough to know that my heavy palms, resting on part of the touchpad, shouldn’t affect the cursor. It works magically to ignore palm rest. I love that. There’s no way I can figure out to change the settings for my Lenovo – and it drives me to madness.

What is really nice – and what finally just sold the hell out of me after knowing all the other great things about the Air?

The multi-touch gestures on the MacBook Air touchpad allow me to shut appMacBookns down easily, tile them, and other convenient stuff. Scrolling works with a couple fingers on the touchpad and sliding up or down. Swipe to Navigate lets me use two fingers sliding left to right or reverse – to scroll through the history of my browser or to move through applications. Mission Control and Launchpad help me to manage apps quickly.

The touchpad is the game clincher for me. The keyboard is awesome. I found that since I had the negative experience with pushing too hard and too deep on the Lenovo keys, using the Air 11-inch keys felt really good and is my new favorite.

Update 12/2016 – I sold the 11-inch MacBook Air and I bought the MacBook Pro 13″ Retina. The screen difference is “why” I switched. The keyboard on the Pro is also a bit better. The power is better – the processing power, that is. It’s not as light as the Airs – but it’s light enough at 3 lbs.

Update 11/2017 – I still have the MacBook Pro, and the keyboard is fantastic, but I still love the MacBook Air keyboards just a bit better. A little more clicky, they are.

I think the 13 or 15 inch MacBook Pro Retina is one of the top 5 notebook computers for writers. Really, don’t waste your time looking if you have the money – buy one.

If money is an issue – look at the Lenovo X1 Carbon – it has a phenomenal keyboard and the screen is nice too. Two things writers cannot go without.

If you are in the market for a new notebook computer to write books or articles on, write anything on, consider the MacBook Air 11 or 13-inch.

Apple 13″ MacBook Air, 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 Dual Core Processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Mac OS, Silver, MQD32LL/A (Newest Version)

If your hands are on the bigger side, you might want the 13-inch instead:

Apple MacBook Air MD231LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop (NEWEST VERSION)

Video of Macbook Air in action

Multi-finger Touchpad Gestures:

Related articles about technology for writers:

Which Tablet to Buy?

Tablets vs. PC’s – No Contest

Thinkpad E125 – the Ultimate Notebook Computer?

Thinkpad X1 – the Ultimate Notebook Computer for Writers

Disclaimer – by clicking on either product link above, I make some absurdly low amount of commission if you buy something. If you found the review useful, use them. If not, open Amazon yourself and go shopping. No worries, I won’t know the damn difference…

  • Been using an Apple desktop chiclet keyboard for years now. I am faster on that compared to everything else.

    So yeah if I was gonna try to write on a mobile platform it would have to be a mac chiclet keyboard. Everything else slows me down.

    I find that I can just wake up, write for an hour or so, and be done with writing for the day. No need for heavy typing after that (and admittedly, an iPad picks up the slack for casual browsing/gaming.

    Great review!

    • MikeFook

      Hi Patrick,

      I think there is a lot to be said for getting used to a keyboard. I think we can probably get used to anything that fits our finger / palm size. I used the desktop apple chiclet keyboard for minutes at at time and I didn’t like the shallowness of key depression – at all. I’d likely get used to it though. There is also something to be said for shallow depressions = faster typing, I think. I had a real shallow one years ago, and once I was accustomed to it – I flew.

      Thanks for checking in man – are you writing any books?

  • Alex

    Hi Mike, I completely agree on the 11″. I walked into a store today to look at my first Macbook (open to variations). Yet I didn’t walk in there even expecting to contemplate buying the 11″ Air. I looked at the newest MacBook which had UI lag on all three display models, and the 13″ Air keyboard didn’t resonate like I’d hope it would, and the Pro was just uncomfortable. The 11″ Air however felt perfect. Typing was a breeze and a joy at the same time. The MacBook was nice to type on despite the shallow key travel, but the UI lag was obvious – maybe they’ll fix that. So I’ll be the proud owner of my first Mac on Friday. I’ll install Scrivener and get writing once again (under the stairs on my PC just isn’t cutting it for ‘the zone’)

    -Alex

    • MikeFook

      glad to hear it! There is nothing that was wrong with my 11 inch, even after falling 7 feet to the hard tile floor. I loved it… but, when I saw that dumb retina screen, I was ruined for life. I’m getting old, so I justified it like that. The MacBook Pro 13 retina is fine… I really hope they slim it down, knock a pound off it and keep the ports and keyboard the way they are – and I’ll maybe upgrade with the next generation. Enjoy the 11-inch. You will love it, I’m sure.

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